Lapland Longspurs flying over Montrose Point (click to see the larger version)
A large movement of Lapland Longspurs took place at Montrose on the morning of December 15. Multiple flocks totaling about 150 birds and ranging in size from a handful to 60 made their way south over the Point and Lake Michigan. Some were far offshore and just a few feet above the water. This isn’t unusual in late fall and early winter, but the numbers are. Interestingly, these birds were flying into a strong southwest wind, which seems counterintuitive, especially considering how small longspurs are. Flocks of Lapland Longspurs are fairly easy to recognize – loose groups of sparrow-like birds with a noticeable bouncy flight.
Does migration ever really end? It’s down to a trickle at Montrose, but as of mid December we’re still seeing birds that can justifiably be called migrants, like these Lapland Longspurs. The only time migration isn’t easy to detect, at least here in Chicago, is the period from mid January to early February.
Snow Buntings at Montrose Dunes, fall 2020. (click to see the larger version)
November is one of the most exciting months of the year at Montrose. The list of rarities found there in November is long and distinguished. As examples, an Ancient Murrelet, just the fourth record for Illinois, made an appearance in 2019, and in 2020 the fourth state record Cassin’s Sparrow delighted birders. General birding can be good too. Here are a few November birding tips:
Check the beach and Dunes for Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. The buntings favor the more open areas of the Dunes, and the longspurs are usually flying over. Both will sometimes feed out in the open on the beach or even in the algae that washes up on the beach.
On days with brisk west winds, Short-eared Owls are a good bet in the Dunes. They usually kick up out of the denser vegetation and fly out over Lake Michigan.
With a little effort and luck, Northern Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls can be found in the peripheral plantings. Look for whitewash and listen for scolding, excited Black-capped Chickadees.
The fishing pier is an excellent place to scan Lake Michigan for loons, grebes, and waterfowl, either resting on the surface or in flight. Overcast days with light winds offer the best viewing conditions.
Northern Shrikes like the Dunes and more open areas of the Point. Look for them perched in the tops of trees or flying through, flashing their white wing and tail spots.
Black-legged Kittiwakes sometimes turn up, especially on days with northeast winds. They aren’t a sure bet but if you’re at Montrose on a day with easterly winds, pay attention to the gulls flying by. This applies for jaegers too.
As expected, the strong south winds brought a lot of migrants to Montrose Point on March 30. I ended up with 41 species in a little over two hours of effort, and 57 species were reported on eBird by all observers. Most impressive were the numbers of Northern Flickers coming in off Lake Michigan early in the morning. These birds were migrating north over the lake at night, and when the sun rose they started to head inland towards land and safety. No passerine or other landbird worth its life wants to get caught over Lake Michigan when the sun comes up. The local Peregrine Falcons and Herring Gulls relish hunting these tardy migrants as they make their way to shore. I also had multiple first of spring sightings, including Caspian Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Hermit Thrush, and Lapland Longspur. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
Lapland Longspur (click to see the larger version)
Eight or so Lapland Longspurs were working the east side and southeast corner of Montrose Dunes this afternoon, October 22. These birds were tame and approachable, as Laps can be at Montrose. They weren’t quite as easy to photograph because of the incessant human activity, but I did manage to get a couple passable shots.
I had a Rough-legged Hawk fly south over Montrose Point this morning. Rough-legged Hawks are rare at Montrose; I think I’ve seen fewer than 10 in the 35+ years I’ve been birding there. I saw the bird just after sunrise and it was a couple of hundred feet high so it must have started migrating in the dark.
Other birds seen at Montrose this chilly a.m. include:
American Pipit – 2
Fox Sparrow – 2
Savannah Sparrow – 1
Lapland Longspur – 5
Snow Bunting – ~8
Common Redpoll – 3
Pine Siskin – 1
It was so cold this morning the lake was steaming, something we usually don’t see until well into winter.
Lake Michigan Steaming (click to see a larger version)
Black-legged Kittiwake. Photo by Geoff Williamson. (click to see a larger version )
One doesn’t usually associate Black-legged Kittiwakes with strong west winds on the west side of Lake Michigan but this morning a first year Black-legged Kittiwake flew south past Montrose Point, delighting the several people who were conducting a lakewatch at the end of the fishing pier.
Other birds seen on today’s westerlies include about a dozen Franklin’s Gulls (a more expected species on strong west winds), numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls, several Northern Harriers, an American Woodcock, and a few Lapland Longspurs and Common Redpolls.